Rain Taxi, Fall, 2000
by Christopher Fischbach
FIDGET is more than a book-but as a book, it's the transcription of Kenneth Goldsmith's bodily movements as he recorded them orally into a tape recorder on Bloomsday, June 16, 1997. It begins rigorously deprived of personal pronouns:
Eyelids open. Tongue runs across upper lip moving from left side of mouth to right following arc of lip. Swallow. jaws clench. Grind. Stretch. Swallow. Head lifts. Bent right arm brushes pillow into back of head ...
And so on. Goldsmith starts recording at 10:00 in the morning and ends at 10:00 in the evening, offering his entries in hourly chunks. Gradually, the narration becomes more poeticized, more Joycean:
Hoo hoo arises. Giggle hits head. So, tongue could not find the mace. Inside I think feels warm. Overruns tender. As young I'm sorry, as tongue. Skatial tightens. Folds scaling apart. And tips and tops ...
The final chapter is a duplicate of the first chapter, backward, as in:
.etarapes regniferof dna bmuht thgiR Hac thgir sehctarcs dnah thgiR ydob dniheb tsiF ...
We find out, in the book's afterword by Marjorie Perloff, that as the day went on, Goldsmith quite understandably started to go crazy, so he went out and bought a fifth of whiskey, which he drank. This explains the latter poetic chapters, and, as it turns out, the backward chapter as well-apparently Goldsmith passed out, or the narration became unintelligible, so he decided to scrap the end of the tape and just reverse the first chapter, a la Finnegans Wake.
By itself, the physical book is perhaps the least interesting part of the overall Fidget project. One year after its composition, Fidget was performed at the Whitney Museum: musician Theo Bleckmann stood above the audience on a pulpit, singing/interpreting the text over a wide range of tenors and falsettos. As he finished each page, he dropped them to the floor, where young boys in Bloomsday-era costume brought them to seamstresses, who sewed the text sheets into paper suits, which were then hoisted back to Bleckmann to wear.
Fidget also took on gallery life at New York's Printed Matter, where the suits from the Whitney performance were displayed, each suit representing an hour of the original recording (the suits from the beginning of the day were white with black text, and the final suit was black with white text, with varying degrees of shading along the way: day into night). Finally, there's the electronic version of Fidget, which can be accessed at the publisher's website. This Java Applet runs through each hour of the text, with sentences appearing from out of nowhere, jumping around the screen, overlapping, and fading in and out. You can adjust the speed, size, and color of the text and background, and jump from hour to hour.
Fidget could be considered to be any number of things: poetry, prose, performance art, conceptual art, kinetic sculpture, music, or visual art. So far the poets seem to be claiming it more than others-probably because it's primarily a language-based project, but also because some of Goldsmith's past projects, all of which have been equally odd, are more obviously in the realm of poetry. And I'm glad the poets have claimed it, because Fidget raises (more than answers) the questions that contemporary poetry should ask itself if it's to remain a vital form in the mutating conversations surrounding 21st-century art. With this New Art, Goldsmith has begun to expand poetry by attacking the assumptions at the heart of it, and his attack is successful because its stance is located at the medium's edges.
As it turns out, one of the most jolting poems in recent memory is hardly a poem at all.